After graduating with “a shiny French literature major,” Kelsey Brown found herself in a “What am I going to do with my life?” tailspin. Then her parents, who are both commercial airline pilots, gifted her and her brother introductory flight lessons. They were intended to lure her brother to the skies. “He was always ‘supposed’ to be the airline pilot,” Brown explains. Instead, she was the one who fell in love at first flight. Her mother balked. “Instead of being excited, she was kind of scared and sad for me,” recounts Brown. “Being one of the first of 10 females hired at her airline, my mom had a totally different experience than I’ve had so far.”

Brown started her training at a small California “mom-and-pop shop” flight school before joining Aerosim Flight Academy in Orlando, Fla., one of only a handful of flight schools in the country that trains professional airline, corporate, and cargo pilots. A freshly minted flight instructor, she spends her days in Cessna and Cirrus planes, molding future professional pilots while accruing flight hours. When she earns 1,000 hours, she’ll be eligible to work for a small airline or cargo operation and start earning multiengine and turbo-jet time. At 2,500 hours, she’ll have the major airlines in her sights. “It is such a complicated industry to break into,” she says. “Training-wise, it’s a complex process, with a lot of moving parts.”

Three years into her training, Brown says, “I’m excited to actually be making money, instead of paying to fly!” She is also thrilled to be teaching. “I majored in French literature because I wanted to be a professor.” Her dream job is as an international passenger pilot and qualified trainer at a major airline, which would allow her to split her time between teaching coworkers and flying the globe.

While she hasn’t experienced half the resistance her mother remembers, “aviation is still, to an extent, a boys’ club. At Aerosim, I’m one of four female instructors, and we have around five female students out of 400. We definitely stand out.” When she bumps against gender bias, her mother is a chief supporter.

Brown also recently connected with—and competed against—other flying women in the 2015 Air Race Classic, a four-day, 2,400-mile race. As half of Aerosim’s Lady Flyers team, Brown went up against pilots of all ages, experience, and backgrounds. “The only qualification is you have to be a female,” she beams. “Being around all those women and doing that kind of flying was game-changing for me. This was my first one, and hopefully not my last. My mom hasn’t done it, yet…but I’m working on her!”

career